Lively 'Firecracker' more character study than comedy
By Dave Howell
Special to The Morning Call
January 29, 2008
Pennsylvania Playhouse is going south for the winter. Director Clair
Freeman is taking audiences to a small Mississippi town for "The Miss
On the surface, "The Miss Firecracker Contest" is a mixture of comedy and
Southern gothic, and there are elements of both. But it is actually more
of a character study. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley, best
known for her Broadway hit, "Crimes of the Heart," explores hopes, dreams,
and self-acceptance, although some of the ruminations are clichéd and not
As the play opens, Carnelle Scott (Jen Kurtz) is practicing her dance
routine. She would rather be known as "Miss Firecracker" than "Miss Hot
Tamale," a name she has earned around town for her less than pristine
Other visitors arrive. Nearsighted Popeye Jackson (Nichi McFarlane) helps
Carnelle with her costume.
Carnelle's cousin Elain (Cindy Stauffer), a former teenaged Miss
Firecracker, shows up as a refugee from her conventional marriage and two
sons. And Cousin Delmount (Keith M. Moser) appears after being released
from a mental institution, hoping to sell the family home where Carnelle
In Act Two, as Carnelle nervously prepares for the contest, she runs into
former lover Mac Sam (Mark Nathanioule), a philosophical carnival worker,
and Terry Mahoney (Suzy Gunkle), a pageant coordinator who has her eye on
Delmount. Meanwhile, a romance begins between Delmount and Popeye.
At two-and-a-half hours, "Firecracker" is a bit long. For those expecting
a comedy, there are not many laughs. The cast plays with energy and
panache. Kurtz contrasts helplessness and a natural attractiveness,
keeping you guessing about her chances. The other cast members are quirky
or downright strange without going over the top, although some do not come
off as true Southern eccentrics.
A "The Miss Firecracker Contest," 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m.
Sunday, through Feb. 10, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Illick's Mill Road,
Bethlehem. Tickets: $20; $17, seniors and children under 19, Friday and
Dave Howell is a freelance writer.
Jodi Duckett, Asst. Entertainment Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
The Morning Call